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West // West Oahu Coverstory
Christina O’Connor

Traveling Exhibit Comes To UH-WO

As Thanksgiving approaches and people gather with their families for the holiday, the Gay Straight Alliance at UH-West Oahu aims to remind people that family can come in many forms by hosting photo exhibition Hawaii Family Portraits at its library through Nov. 27.

The show features work from local photographer Mike Ang and takes a look inside the lives of families with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members. It’s comprised of four categories – GLBT parents, GLBT couples, parents with GLBT children and extended ohana. Each portrait is accompanied by a story about the family – how they met their partners, struggles to gain acceptance or child custody issues.

Hawaii Family Portraits has toured the state, making appearances at Oahu colleges and coffee shops, as well as various venues on the outer islands.

The opening of the exhibit at UH-WO marks the achievement of a longtime goal for the school’s GSA and its faculty adviser Jeanne Marie Iorio.

“We have been talking about it for the past year and a half when we were out at Pearl City,” explained UH-WO GSA president Clinton Nishida, a senior studying humanities with a concentration in English.

“But the campus was so small that there wasn’t really a place to house the exhibit. When we got to the new campus, we were like, ‘Hey we can do it now!’ ”

The exhibit opened last week Tuesday with a reception featuring presentations by local nonprofits, including Equality Hawaii Foundation, the organization that commissioned the artwork.

Equality Hawaii Foundation is dedicated to securing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender individuals and their families in Hawaii through education and discussion.

“We thought it was very important to tell the stories of our families,” said EHF executive director Donald Bentz. “Our families are just like all of the other families in Hawaii – we go through the same triumphs and joys, trials and tribulations that any other family does.

“We are just hoping to create some internal dialogue with people who may be a little uncomfortable with the concept of a family that has LGBT (members),” Bentz said of Hawaii Family Portraits.

Through hosting the exhibit, GSA also hopes to spark conversations about equality.

While GSA has been on the UH-WO campus for years, its activity waned in recent times until Nishida and a group of his friends and other students took over last year looking to give the alliance a resurgence. The group is now comprised of nearly 40 students.

“We felt that we had LGBT students on campus, but that there wasn’t a lot of support for them,” Nishida said.

“We have been trying to really make a presence on our campus,” Nishida said of GSA. “We thought that by bringing in this exhibit, we could really continue that dialogue on equality, on acceptance.”

“We are just delighted that (the exhibit) is going to be (at UH-WO),” Bentz said, “and we are thrilled that it is part of an opening of the new campus.

“One of our goals – and I think it kind of worked out perfectly because it is right around the time of Thanksgiving – is helping to redefine what ohana means,” Bentz explained.

“Everybody thinks that ohana is parents and children and your extended family, but it could mean anything – even just a group or collection of people. And I think this exhibit kind of shows that.”

Hawaii Family Portraits runs through Nov. 27 and is free and open to the general public during normal library hours: Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The library will be closed Nov. 22 and 23.

For more information about the exhibit, visit hawaiifamilyportraits.org.

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